By: Trela White, Esq, Palm Beach Post September 20, 2012


By Jason Schultz

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


Mayors from around Palm Beach County came together Wednesday to learn what city governments can do outside the classroom to help children learn to read better.

“It’s not just the purview of schools,” Ron Fairchild, a consultant for the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, told officials from 32 municipalities in the county at the fifth annual Mayor’s Literacy Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach. “It’s the purview of civic leadership.”

The goal of this year’s luncheon was to get cities to sign on and designate a liaison for the national grade level reading campaign, said Darlene Kostrub, CEO of the Palm Beach County Literacy Coalition, which the event with the Palm Beach County League of Cities. The campaign seeks to increase the number of low-income students who are reading at grade level in the third grade by 100 percent in at least 12 states by 2020.

One out of every five low-income third-graders is reading below grade level, and about 75 percent of them will eventually drop out of high school, according to national studies. In Florida, the measure of whether children are reading at grade level is whether they meet the proficiency standards on the third-grade reading FCAT standardized test.

Fairchild said “it makes good headlines” to blame schools and teachers for low-income children being unable to read, but the problem lies in three problems outside the classroom — a lack of access to reading materials at home, chronic absenteeism and a lack of any summer learning or reading.

The result, he said, puts poorer children two to three years behind in reading by the time they reach the fifth grade.

“Communities have a significant role to play in whether children are reading,” he said.

Fairchild outlined five things that city officials could do as part of their commitment to the grade-level reading campaign:

— Speaking out on the issue.

— Lobbying the school district to make reducing absenteeism a priority.

— Encouraging adults to volunteer as reading tutors.

— Distributing books to pediatricians to give to parents.

— Expanding summer reading programs in libraries and churches.

Boynton Beach Mayor Woodrow Hay, who is also a retired Palm Beach County School District employee, liked the idea of his city trying to get adults involved as tutors. He said the city might be able to expand its existing summer reading classes at its libraries.

“What better place to get started than getting parents involved in volunteering?” Hay said.